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Archer, Alex - Rogue Angel 02 - Solomons Jar PDF

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Solomon’s Jar Alex Archer T HE LEGEND …THE ENGLIGH COMMANDER TOOK JOAN’S SWORD AND RAISED IT HIGH. The broadsword, plain and unadorned, gleamed in the firelight. He put the tip against the gro- und and his foot at the center of the blade. The broadsword shattered, fragments falling into the mud. The crowd surged forward, peasant and soldier, and snatched the shards from the trampled mud. The commander tossed the hilt deep into the crowd. Smoke almost obscured Joan, but she continued praying till the end, until finally the flames climbed her body and she sagged against the restraints. Joan of Arc died that fateful day in France, but her legend and sword are reborn… 1 On long tanned legs Annja Creed ran through the hardwood forest. Rays from the sun hanging precariously above the great mountains slanted like pale gold lances at random between the bo- les. They caressed her sweaty face like velvet gloves as she ran through them. Despite sweating in the heat, she breathed normally, dodging thicker stands of brush, crashing through the thinner ones. Late-season insects trilled around her and in sporadic spectral clouds tried to fly up her nose and into her mouth. The birds chattered and called to one another in the trees. The woods smelled of green growth and mostly dried decayed vegetation, not at all the way she imagined a true rain forest might smell, lower down in the Amazon basin proper. Up in the watershed of the Amazon’s tributary the Río Marañón, in eastern Peru, the early autumn was drier and cooler, the growth far less dense. Her heart raced as much as any person’s might have after running at high speed for over two miles, up and down steep ridges. It had little to do with the exertion, though. She ran for her life. DAYLIGHT CAME LATE and evening early to the small Peruvian village of Chiriqui. The sun had rolled well past the zenith. Though shadows weren’t yet very long, it wasn’t far from va- nishing behind the tree-furred ridge to the west when the blast of a diesel engine ripped the calm air. Beyond the ridge loomed the mighty peaks of the Andes themselves, looking close enough to topple and crush the little village into its dusty hillside, their blue tinge hinting how far away they really stood. The hills were mostly covered in patchy grass, dry as the hot Southern Hemisp- here summer ended. Stands of hardwood forest rose on some of the heights, interspersed with to- ugh scrub. Chickens flapped their wings in annoyance and fled squawking as a big blue Dodge Ram 2500, battered and sun faded, rolled into the small plaza in the midst of the collection of a couple of dozen huts. A tethered spider monkey shrilled obscenities and ran up a pole supporting a thatch awning as the vehicle clipped the edge of a kiosk and spilled colorful fruits bouncing ac- ross the tan hard-packed dirt. The owner remonstrated loudly as the vehicle stopped in a cloud of exhaust and dust. Men began bailing out of the truck’s extended bed. Men dressed in green-and-dust-colored ca- mouflage who carried unmistakable broken-nosed Kalashnikovs and grenades clipped on their vests like green mango clusters. They were gringos, unmistakably, who towered over the small brown villagers. The vehicle sported a powerful Soviet-era PKS machine gun mounted on a roll bar right behind the cab. The people of Chiriqui knew better than to call attention to themselves when such visitors ca- me to town. “Gather ’round,” the apparent leader commanded in clear but norteamericano-accented Spa- nish. He wore a short-sleeved camo blouse, a similarly patterned baseball cap atop his crewcut red head, and carried a black semiautomatic pistol in an open-top holster tied down his right thigh like a movie gunslinger. Unlike people familiar with such things only from watching television from the comforts of their dens, the villagers knew well the difference between semi and full automatic. The villagers stared, more as if their worst nightmares were coming true than from any lack of comprehension. Because, of course, that was exactly what was happening. The gringo soldiers with their hard faces grinning mean white grins spread out in pairs with rifles at the ready to en- force their leader’s command. IN THE RELATIVE COOL of her hut Annja Creed sat straining to read by the light coming in by dribs and drabs through gaps in the hardwood-plank wall. A bare bulb hung by a frayed cord perilously low over her head at the table on which she had spread the ancient book. It was unlit. The people of the village of Chiriqui had already done more than enough for her; she had firmly but with effusive thanks refused their offers to burn up more of their scarce, precious fuel to run the generator to provide artificial illumination. She could smell hot earth outside, the thatch, the sun-dried and splitting planks of the walls. And most of all the familiar musty odor of an ancient volume. “…herb has most salubrious effects,” she read, “particularly with regards to ye falling sick- ness, the effects of which fit it serves to ameliorate most expeditiously…” That was how she would have translated it into English, anyway. The Jesuit Brother João da Concepção’s seventeenth-century Portuguese gave her no problems; modern Portuguese had changed less in the intervening centuries than most languages. Even other Romance languages, which if translated literally tended to sound archaic and formal even at street level to English ears. She knew her Romance languages. She knew the majors, Spanish, French, Italian and, of cour- se, Portuguese. Plus she was rudely conversant in some of the minors, such as Catalan. Of the whole group she knew little of Romanian. She read and wrote Latin superbly; it had formed the core of her language study since she had learned it in the Catholic orphanage in New Orleans. What gave her fits was Brother João’s crabgrass handwriting. The ink had faded to a sort of faint burgundy hue on the water-warped pages of the ancient journal. In some places water spots or mold obscured the text entirely. In others the words faded entirely from visibility as of their own accord. “This would probably be easier if I went outside in the direct sun,” she said aloud. She had a tendency to talk to herself. It was one of several reasons—that she knew of—that the villagers called her la gringa loca, the Crazy White Lady. That she spoke Spanish and was willing to sha- re her medical supplies or give impromptu English lessons to the local kids—or their elders— helped keep the inflection friendly when they said it, so all was well. As for going out in the sun, she’d had about enough of it in the weeks she’d spent tramping the hills looking for the tome. It wasn’t as hot there as it was down lower in the Selva, the great jungle of the Upper Amazon. But to compensate, the high-altitude sun was more intense, with less air to block the UV rays that punished her fair skin. And it was hot enough. Even in the sha- de of the hut she had to keep constantly on her guard to prevent sweat from running the line of her chestnut hair, tied back with a russet bandanna, and dripping off her nose onto the priceless pages. “Anyway,” she said, aloud again, “I’m just being impatient. I could just wait till I’m back at the hotel.” Having searched a month to find the book, she was eager to confirm its contents. However, she was still a day or two from any kind of reliably illuminated, not to mention air-conditioned, surroundings; she was meeting a farmer from up in the hills about sunset. He had agreed to give her a lift into the nearest town of consequence in his venerable pickup. Annja’s impatience was rewarded. It seemed that the hints she’d been pursuing had been cor- rect. The long-dead friar had cataloged a wealth of herbs of the Upper Amazon and watershed, along with a remarkable accounting of their observable effects on various maladies so systematic that it prefigured the scientific method. She wondered if an early stint in China, with its extensive materia medica assembled over millennia, and its own tradition of systematic observation and trial and error, had influenced him. Excitement thrilled through her veins as she carefully paged through the book, reading passa- ges, looking at the pictures Brother João had drawn in almost obsessive detail. She knew nothing about botany, and even the mid-seventeenth century was straying beyond her actual scope of for- mal training, which was medieval and Renaissance Europe. But since she had taken on this new life, she’d found herself constantly expanding her horizons. She was barely conscious of the outlaw-motorcycle rumble and snarl of the diesel truck pul- ling into the plaza. None of the villagers possessed a motor vehicle, but a few, mostly pickup trucks, wandered through Chiriqui almost every day. “Senorita,” a childish voice said, low and urgent behind her. She turned. “What is it, Luis?” she asked the tiny figure who stood in the door, a tattered T-shirt hanging halfway down his bare brown legs. His eyes were great anthracite disks of concern beneath his thatch of untamed black hair. “You must go,” he said. He looks so innocent, she thought, not overly concerned despite his apparent urgency. She knew how kids tended to dramatize. “Why?” she asked. His eyes grew bigger and his voice more grave. “Bad men come,” he said. From outside came the sudden, unmistakable clatter of automatic gunfire. THE VILLAGERS CROWDED into the square and stared as one at the man who lay writhing on the slope across the stream, guts and pelvis pulped by a burst of steel-jacketed rifle bullets. The stink of burned propellant and lubricant stung the air. “My, my,” the intruders’ leader said, wagging his head reprovingly. “You people are slow le- arners. Don’t you know by now that when we come around you don’t run, because you’ll only die tired?” For a moment there was no sound but the pinging of the truck as it cooled and the groans of the mortally injured man. “Don Pepe, front and center,” the redheaded man in the ball cap com- manded. A burly black trooper rudely thrust an old man with a full head of white hair forward. Don Pe- pe was skinny and stooped, in his formerly purple-and-white-striped shirt, faded by sun and repe- ated washings to dusty gray, his stained khaki shorts and rubber sandals. Big dark splotches of sweat spread outward beneath the pits of his scrawny arms. Don Pepe staggered a few steps. Then he straightened and approached the intruder with dig- nity. “Why are you doing this?” he asked. “We paid our taxes. Both to the government and to Don Francisco.” “Don Francisco is the main traficante in the region,” Luis said. He stood beside Annja as she crouched in the shade of an awning behind a blue plastic barrel used to collect rainwater. “These are his enforcers.” Annja made gestures to silence Luis. The boy seemed unfazed by the throes of the man who’d been shot. Annja knew him as a villager who’d lived here his whole life; he was probably at least a semidistant cousin of the boy. This isn’t the first man he’s seen shot, she realized with a jolt. Maybe not even by these men. She felt a flare of righteous fury. She suppressed a strong desire to rush in. The mercenaries were too many and too well-armed, and she knew well what her failure would cost her friends. The tall man, his skin sunburned an uncomfortable pink, wagged a finger. “Ah, but that’s not why we’re here. You’re harboring a spy—a journalist.” Don Pepe raised his head and stared the man in the eye. He did not speak. “Not going to deny it, huh?” “Tell him, Pepe!” a middle-aged woman screamed. “She’s no journalist! She’s an archaeolo- gist.” A Latino soldier drove the steel-shod butt of his Kalashnikov into her belly. She staggered back and sat down hard in the dust, clutching herself and gasping for breath. Annja went tense. “Anybody else care to speak out of turn?” The red-haired man surveyed the crowd. The villa- gers shifted their weight and glared sullenly. But they said no more. “Didn’t think so. Now, Don Pepe, here. He’s a man of the world. Aren’t you, Pep? He knows all this archaeology noise is just a bunch of bullshit. Right?” The old man shook his head. “It is true. She is no journalist.” The mercenary shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. A spy’s a spy. You know better than to shelter out- siders. So do yourselves a favor and give her up.” Don Pepe shook his white head. “No.” The other cocked his head to one side. “What’s that, old man? I don’t think I heard you cor- rectly.” “I will not. We will not. She has done you no harm. She has come among us as a friend. She— ” The vicious crack of a 9 mm handgun cut him off. Don Pepe’s head whipped back, but not be- fore red blood and dirty white clots flew out the back of his ruptured skull. He fell. The red-haired man tipped the barrel of his Beretta service side arm skyward. A tiny wisp of bluish smoke curled from the blue-black muzzle. “So much for old Don Pepe. Anybody else care to step forward as a spokesperson—preferably somebody smart enough not to contradict me?” The echoes of the gunshot reverberated on and on, from the far hillside where the first man still lay dying in agony, from all around. Behind the rain barrel, Annja backed away. “Where do you go?” Luis asked in alarm. “To give them what they want,” she said grimly. “You can’t! They’ll kill—” But she was gone. “LOOKS TO ME as if there’s gonna be a village massacre here, boys,” the redhead told his men in English. “Those atrocity-loving leftist guerrillas. So sad.” “Even if they give the bitch up, boss?” a hatchet-faced trooper asked. “Do you even need to ask? Examples need to be made here. Remember, we got to be back in time to secure the airfield by 1900. Got an extraspecial shipment headed out tonight on the Fre- edom Bird.” Then, returning to Spanish, the leader announced, “All right, people. Listen up, here. You ha- ve ten seconds to give up the spy. Or else the nice lady sitting there gets it in the belly. Unders- tand?” THE TROOPER WHO STOOD in the Ram’s bed behind the mounted machine gun had blond hair shorn to a silver plush and ears that stuck straight out from the sides of his head beneath his crumpled camouflage boonie hat like open car doors. He couldn’t possibly have been as young as he looked. Not and be old enough to have had the military training and the seasoning these men showed. Annja was still new to the game, still finding out—as she was to her horror to- day—just what it entailed. But she knew it took time to become a killer. Her rage, her sense of mission, quieted the roiling in her gut. And the adrenaline song of fear in the pulse in her ears. The boyish gunner had his attention focused wholly on the villagers. So stealthily did Annja creep up in the dust behind the truck that he would have had a hard ti- me hearing her even if he had been listening. But there was no way he would miss the shift in ba- lance as she climbed up in the bed, no matter how carefully she moved. So instead she simply crouched, then leaped like a panther, over the tailgate and in behind him. The corrugated soles of her ankle-high hiking boots still made little noise as she landed. The truck’s rocking alerted him. He started to turn. She caught him around the throat with one arm, his head with the other. He reached for the combat knife hanging from his belt. But the sleeper hold she put on him cut off blood flow to the brain and put him out almost instantly. Annja held him for an endless half minute, just to be sure. Heart pounding, she feared one of the intruders would look around, or one of the villagers would spy her and give her away, delibe- rately or through simple reflex surprise. But the mercs and their captives had eyes only for one another, as the shadows of evening stole across the village. Slowly she lowered the unconscious man to the bed. The machine gun was fed by a belt from a box attached to its receiver. Annja stood up straight behind the weapon, grabbed the pistol grip, swung the butt around to her shoulder and boldly an- nounced her presence. “Here I am!” “WHAT HAVE we here?” the leader of the intruders asked sarcastically, putting his hands on his hips. “You here to do the right thing and give yourself up, save these good people a lot of suf- fering and dying?” Annja swiveled the barrel so it aimed straight at the freckled bridge of his nose. “Not a chan- ce,” she said. “Throw down your weapons and walk out of here, and it’s you who’ll be saving yourselves.” “I think not,” he said. “I think I’ll just start executing one of these little people every count of ten, say, until you decide to surrender.” He raised his Beretta and aimed it at the head of a man who stood nearby. Annja pulled the trigger. Nothing happened. Safety, she thought, with a gut slam of shock. She knew pistols and rifles fairly well. But next to nothing about machine guns. She spun away as a trooper behind the leader whipped his AKM to his camo-clad shoulder and triggered a burst. The bullets cracked over her head. She dived over the tailgate as a grenade thumped in the bed. The explosion drove the big Ram down hard on its suspension. As it flexed back up, the fuel tank went up with a loud whomp, sending an orange ball rolling into the sky, trailing a pillar of black smoke. A figure reared up from the truck bed, all orange, waving wings of flame. Demonic screams issued from it. “Billy!” shouted the trooper who’d thrown the grenade. Frowning slightly, the leader raised a straight right arm, sighted down his handgun and sque- ezed off a single shot. The flame-shrouded head snapped back. The shrieking ceased. The figure settled back into its pyre. “Spread out. Find the bitch,” the redhead said coldly. “What about these people?” asked the tall black trooper. “The hell with them. I want her dead!” THROUGH GATHERING EVENING, Annja ran. Not so much for fear of her own life. To her own surprise she felt little concern for that. Rat- her, for her mission. The thought that her mentor might have labored half a millennium to find the sword, and to find a new champion, only to have his labors made futile by such men as these made her blood boil. Her footfalls thudded in her ears, above the buzz of swarming insects and the swishing and pi- ping cries of the birds that swooped between the trees in pursuit of them. She had no idea how many men hunted her through the hills. They seemed to operate in teams. Three times they had spotted her and opened fire with their false-flag Russian weapons. Fortunately her reflexes—or distance—had prevented her being tagged. That and her knowledge of the terrain. She had spent the better part of a month tramping these hills, looking for buried treasure: the cache where Brother João had hidden his voluminous jour- nal from the planters and the troops who hunted him to steal his secrets. She had found it not two days before beneath a cairn of stones half-buried in a hillside, using clues left by the friar after he made his escape to Goa, India. She knew Chiriqui’s intimate environs far better than her pursuers were likely to. And they didn’t seem inclined to slow themselves down by dragging along a local to serve as a guide. Be- sides, she could see they were manifestly arrogant to the point of blindness, accustomed to beli- eving themselves so superior to anyone else that they’d never think of dragooning help. She paused in the shelter of an erosion-cut bank, trying to control her breathing with a yoga exercise. The sun had gone from sight, although the sky remained light, stained with peach to- ward the west. The hollows and low places were filled with a sort of lavender gloom that was al- most tangible. A deep ravine gashed the land just over the next ridge. Using such cover as scrub and rock outcrops offered, she climbed the slope, senses stretched tight as a guyline. She paused in the de- ep shade of the broad-leaved trees at the crest. A hill across from her still hid the sun. Below her the ravine was a slash in gloom crossed by a pale blur—a rope-and-plank footbridge common in the erstwhile Incan empire. She drew a deep breath. Almost out of here, she thought. She walked down the slope. A nasty crack sounded beside her left ear. She felt something sting her cheek. By uncompre- hending reflex she turned to look back up the hill. A yellow star appeared in the brush at the foot of the trees, not far from the point where she’d left them. It flickered. She heard more cracking sounds. She turned and raced for the bridge. The short, steep slope gave no cover. The bridge gave less. But the only chance she saw was to make it across and lose herself in the night and far hills. Her pursuers might have night-vision equipment but she’d just have to chance it. She zigged right and zagged left, running flat out. The grayed, splintery-dry planks were boun- cing beneath her feet with a peculiar muted timbre as she darted out onto the bridge. It had not occurred to her to wonder why these hardmen, who seemed to know their business had gotten a clear, close shot at her back—and missed. But then a pair of men rose up from the bushes clustered on the far side and walked onto the bridge to meet her. Men in mottled brown-and-khaki camouflage. Each carried a rifle with an un- mistakable Kalashnikov banana magazine slanted in patrol position before his waist. Feeling sick, she grabbed the wooly guide rope with one hand and turned. Another pair of men strolled almost casually down the hill behind her, likewise holding their weapons muzzle down. Their crumpled boonie hats were pulled low, making their faces shadows. “Might as well give it up here, miss,” a man called from the bridge’s far end in a New England accent. “Only way out is down. And it’s a long step.” “What do you think you’re doing?” a nervous voice asked from behind her. “What do you think?” the New Englander called out with a nasty sneer. “The first white wo- man we see in weeks, and she’s a babe with legs up to here. You want to let that go to waste?” “Plenty of time to waste her later,” the big merc added. “Sorry, lady. Nothing personal. Life’s just a bitch sometimes, ain’t she?” Annja let her head hang forward with a loose strand of hair hanging before it like a banner from a defeated army. Her shoulders slumped. She sat back against the guide rope heedless of the way it swayed over emptiness. “That’s more like it, honey,” the trooper said. “You’ve got a good sense of the inevitable.” He was close now. Holding his weapon warily in a gloved right hand, he reached for her with his left. Her face hidden, she frowned in sudden concentration. She reached with her will into a pocket in space, into a different place, always near her but always infinitely far away. Suddenly a sword was in her hand, a huge broadsword with an unadorned cross hilt. She swept it whistling before her. The hand reaching for her pulled back. Blood shot out from the arm, more black than red in the twilight. It sprayed hot across her face. The mercenary staggered back, shouting more in astonishment than pain. That would come la- ter. But he had no later. Annja dropped to the planks, catching herself with her hands, her right still wrapped around the sword’s hilt, ignoring the agonizing pressure on her knuckles. She could see the stream me- andering more than three hundred feet below, visible between wide-spaced planks as a pale rib- bon through shadow. Gunfire rapped from the bridge’s far end. The flash and vertical flare-spike from the muzzle brake lit the canyon like a spastic bonfire. The bridge bounced and boomed as men raced toward Annja. She jumped to her feet. She looked at them for a heartbeat. The man in front faltered, allowing the one behind to blunder into him. “A sword?” he asked, momentarily stunned. His eyes read Annja’s intent. He flung out a desperate hand. “No!” The sword went up and down. Left and right. The guide ropes parted with ax-blow sounds, turning into muted twangs. Turning her upper torso sideways, Annja seized the hilt with both hands and slashed through both foot ropes with a single stroke. The bridge parted. Its sundered halves fell into the ravine. So did all the men on it. The merc in back on the west side might have managed to get a grip and conceivably climb to safety. But his partner panicked, turned and ran right into him as the boards fell away beneath his boots. The two fell in a screaming tangle of arms and legs and weapons. Annja let the sword slip back into its space as she fell. She felt no fear, only thrill-ride exaltati- on. She had escaped. That was victory. Her right hand shot out and caught a plank. Splinters go- uged her palm. She gripped with all her strength regardless. The slam into the sheer bank broke her nose. But it did not break her grip. She hung on while bells and firecrackers went off behind her eyes. Then, blood streaming over her lips and dripping from her chin, she began straining her eyes to pick out the best climb down to the safety of the streambed. 2 “Say, lady,” a voice called through the rain. “Hey, pretty lady. Hey, there.” Annja paused. She was walking home from the little Puerto Rican bodega around the corner from her loft with a small bag of groceries. She wore a light jacket, a calf-length skirt in dark maroon and soft fawn-colored boots that came up almost to meet it, leaving just two fingers of skin bare. A long baguette of French bread stuck up from the brown paper sack, shielded from the patchy downpour by a black umbrella. She liked to get small amounts of groceries during the brief intervals she spent at home, to force herself to get out at least once a day. Otherwise she’d spend all her time cooped up with her artifacts and monographs, turning into a mushroom. Or so she feared. She looked into the doorway framed by grimy gray stones from which the words had issued. The speaker looked anything but threatening. Don’t make too many assumptions, she warned herself. A small man lay sprawled in the arched doorway with his legs before him like a rag doll’s. He looked emaciated within a shabby overcoat, knit cap and a pair of ragged pants, smeared with patches of grime, that came up well above grubby, sockless ankles and well-holed deck shoes. All might have possessed color at one point. Now all, including his grime-coated skin and stub- ble beard, had gone to shades of gray The closest thing to color he displayed was the yellowish brown of his teeth and the slightly lighter but similar shade of the whites of his mouse-colored eyes. In a quick assessment, she reckoned she could take him. It was part of the calculus of life as a New Yorker. And even more of the life she had taken on. “What can I do for you?” she asked. “Need some change,” the man muttered in a voice as colorless as his skin. “Got some change for me?” “You’re right,” she said. “You do need change. But I can’t give it to you.” The man cawed bitter laughter. “Shit, lady. I need a drink not a sermon.” Spittle sprayed from his gray lips, fortunately falling well short of her. “At least you’re honest,” she said. “I do want to help you.” The impatient traffic hissed through the rain behind her. “But if I give you money, am I hel- ping to keep you here? Is that really kindness or compassion?” He had cocked his head and was staring at her fixedly. She realized he was contemplating trying to threaten her or outright rush her: a nice middle-class twentysomething white girl with more education than sense. I’ve got victim written all over me, she realized. She had already stopped talking. Instead she turned and lowered her head to bear squarely on his face and hardened her eyes. She would not summon the sword unless he displayed a weapon. And maybe not then; even before her transformation she had known how to take care of herself and been surprisingly good at it. But if he actually tried to coerce her she would react with force as ungentle as it was unarmed. She had always hated victimizers. Now as her life’s destiny had begun to unfold she found her- self growing almost pathological in her hatred for them. Something in her manner melted his resolve, which had never so much as gelled. The readying tension flowed out of him. His head dropped and he muttered into a filthy scrap of muffler wrap- ped around his neck. Annja realized he wasn’t a victimizer, not really. Just another opportunist who had realized on the teetering brink of too late that the opportunity he thought he saw was the eager smile of the abyss. He was weak rather than committed to anything. Even evil. In a way she found that sadder. She struggled with her groceries, her hand fumbling in her pocket, then handed him the first bill she found. “In the end, I find myself fresh out of answers,” she said. “So I guess I’ll take the easiest course.” And wonder who’s really the weak opportunist, she thought. He snatched it away with crack-nailed fingers swathed in what might have been the shredded gray remnants of woolen gloves, or bandages. The movement sent a wave of his smell rushing over her like a blast of tear gas. Eyes watering, trying not to choke audibly, she turned and wal- ked away. “Hey, what’s this?” he screamed after her. “A lousy buck? Tight-ass bitch! Don’t care about anybody except yourself.” HER LOFT HAD a window seat. She liked to half recline on it as she studied or read her e- mails. It gave her a cozy feeling, surrounded by her shelves of books and the artifacts, the pots- herds, bone fragments and chipped flint blades, that seemed to accrue on every horizontal surfa- ce. Today the clouds masked the time of day and veils of rain periodically hid and revealed the distant harbor. Rain ran long quavering fingers down the sooted, fly-spotted glass. She sipped coffee well dosed with cream and sugar. The way she’d loved it as a child at the Café du Monde. Which, of course, wasn’t there anymore.

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